Labour is now the divided party. It is time to unite the right

The two Eds' new centre-hugging approach has made Labour the party of bitter division. Has there been a better time to unite the right?

Miliband and Balls may find themselves fighting a lot of internal battles
Alex Wickham, UK Politics Editor
On 6 June 2013 10:34

Ed Miliband was always going to have to make this decision eventually. Would he stick to the big state, big borrowing, pro-welfare mantra of his first three years as Labour leader, or would he embrace the centre ground in search of votes? This week Miliband chose to ditch principle and go for Number 10.

Two speeches from Labour’s no longer dogmatic duo have realigned the party. Ed Balls knows he will be out of a job in a year if he cannot convince the public of his competence, so abandoning welfare universality in the form of winter fuel payments to the rich and embracing a form of fiscal prudence was hugely significant. Today Miliband announces a cap on social security spending over three years and seeks to rebrand Labour as “the party of work”. A much-needed attempt to show a welfare-sceptic public that he is not a soft touch on the main issue the Tories are killing him on in the polls.

The bad news for Team Dave is that this could be the strategic decision that propels Miliband into Downing Street. The good news is that it also has the potential to tear the Labour Party apart and scupper its chances at the next election.

Just take a look at the fury from the Labour left this week. The GMB union accused Balls of a “complete absence of aspiration,” saying that they were “disturbed” by his ambition to “out Osborne Osborne”. Meanwhile, Owen Jones warned that “Labour's leadership will not get away with justifying austerity”. The first shots have been fired in the next Labour war.

Much of the ire that was directed at their loathed Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne will now be aimed at the two Eds. One Labour wag tells me how the party’s left has delighted in drawing up possible replacements for Byrne at the impending Shad Cab reshuffle. Miliband has now chosen Byrne over them. How long before they have had enough of him too?

Of course the Tories have been victim to bitter infighting over recent weeks too. Yet on Europe, Cameron has managed to patch together something close to a ceasefire. Gay marriage was painfully divisive for the party, though now that battle is over, as Ben Brogan pleads, they can and must move on.

Which leaves UKIP. One Number 10 chin-stroker admits to me that they have no strategy to deal with Nigel Farage: “there is nothing we can do”. Cameron should swallow his pride and change that attitude. UKIP’s intransigence is unhelpful too; stupidly joining forces with Labour in Norfolk rightly lost them a lot of respect.

For the first time this parliament Labour has become the most divided political party. The infighting between the two Eds’ new centre-hugging leadership and the party’s rejected left will only exacerbate in the run up to 2015. The right’s only hope to prevent Prime Minister Miliband from becoming a reality is to put aside its own past divisions and take full advantage.

That means forgetting Europe, forgetting gay marriage, forgetting leadership nonsense and talking to UKIP. Labour is now the party of bitter division. It is time to unite the right.

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator, Alex Wickham is the UK Political Editor for The Commentator

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